Paying With Mobile Can Be Safer Than Plastic — If You Do It Right

Understanding the latest security innovations and protections — layered passwords, staying off public wifi — can make a big difference

Our smartphones make life easier in so many ways. As if calling, texting, web surfing, and using social media wasn’t enough, now, thanks to mobile banking apps, you can handle your finances on your favorite touch-screen as well. Grabbing the next round? As you’re waiting for the bartender to fill your glasses, you can Venmo request your friends back at the table. Your son needs money for a school trip? Transfer it to him with Zelle. No longer do you have to carry around a checkbook or tell a friend “it’s fine” when they come up short with cash.

But, as Voltaire (or Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, depending on your chosen source) both said: With great power comes great responsibility. Hackers are no secret, and if they’re super interested in your not-super-interesting Instagram account, you better believe they’re trying to break down the walls to your payment apps, too.
Don’t stress yet. Mobile payment options are very secure compared to traditional credit card payments, according to Monica Eaton-Cardone, COO at Chargebacks911.com. Think about it: If you lose your passcode-protected phone, no one can get in, but if you lose your credit card, anyone can swipe it, explains Hitesh Anand, Former Verifone VP of Product who now advises multiple mobile payment startups.

Try implementing these tips into your mobile-payment-lifestyle so you can reap the benefits of this life-changing feature while minimizing the chances of getting any information — or worse, any money — stolen.
Security comes in layers. Before you even think about password protecting your payment apps, you should be protecting your phone. Eaton-Cardone suggests password-protecting your smartphone. Passcodes are great, but Touch ID or Face ID are even better, she says. Also, one password might not be enough. Protect your apps with two-factor authentication, Eaton-Cardone says, so it is even harder for hackers to get in.

Keep it private. Just like any other personal web browsing, steer clear of public wifi. There might be a hacker lurking on the network who can intercept the payment. “Adding a credit or debit card to your mobile wallet while on a public network can expose your card information to cybercriminals,” Eaton-Cardone says.

Get one step ahead of your scammer. When you’re online shopping, “verify that you’re shopping on a legitimate site,” Eaton-Cardone says. Fraudsters create “spoofs” — fake versions of popular sites — then, when consumers enter their personal information, the fraudster swipes it, she explains. If you’re using peer-to-peer payment methods to purchase something from an unknown vendor, do it on a service like PayPal which has much better buyer protection than other apps, Ted Rossman, Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com, says.

Check, then double check, then triple check. The username you’re sending money to, that is. It’s unfortunately easy to slightly mess up a username and send the money to the wrong person. Sometimes you get lucky — some strangers might send the money back if you explain the situation, but many won’t and you could lose your funds. Plus, very few mobile payment apps have any recourse, meaning that once your money is gone, you may never see it again, Anand says.

Keep peer-to-peer payments truly peer-to-peer. The only way to fully ensure your money is getting into the right hands, or Venmo balance, is if you trust the person on the receiving end, so exchange online only with those you know and trust, Anand says.

With Rebecca Cohen

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky

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